Autumn may be my favourite season but it’s like picking a favourite book. However, I do love Autumn. I love how it encourages us to wind down from the heat of summer, to enjoy the rain and the chilly nights, to see the world changing.
It is also a good time to garden. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold, and there is enough rain to encourage you to believe that the plants will settle in okay. The soil still has some Summer warmth, and our Winters are mild enough to let plants burble along until the burst of Spring.
I cleaned out the summer vegetables, and prepared the soil for a winter crop. This was mainly compost and warm castings.
Now the cabbages are starting to look like cabbages. I spent time yesterday rubbing the eggs of the cabbage moth from the back of the leaves.
We chopped back the rosemary bush and offered sprigs to the neighbourhood.
The spring onions, pak choi and spinach are all holding their own.
The seeds for the pak choi and spinach were a gift from Hanna and Al, to thank us for coming to their wedding. If you know Hanna you will not be surprised to hear that these little tags were all hand-created by her, with some input from Al, I am sure!
The silver beet (chard) is begining to flourish now that it has come out from under the beans. (Who knew there was any way to slow down the growth of silver beet?!)
Work has gone on in the very neglected back yard. For a few years now it has been left to its own devices, it is time to wrench back a bit of control. I have been planting beside the fence…..a grevillia (Robyn Gordon) and a little eremophilia vernicosa. This is described as a delightful small shrub with pink flowers in spring, drought tolerant and good for heavy soils. What more could I ask for?
Also planted is a ground cover, Helichrysum argyrophyllum. It has lovely everlasting daisies from early Summer to Autumn. Behind it is a small tea tree, Leptospermum scoparium. It sounds quite spectacular with pink flowers that cascade from Spring to Autumn, with narrow leaves that provide a dramatic backdrop. (Well, that’s what the label says!)
Next to them are two roses, ‘Red intuition’ and a white Iceberg. The Iceberg is very special as it was grown from a cutting for me by my sister
There is more work to do in the back. I have a big bush to remove and more plants to plant. They won’t get in the ground now, so will have to wait until the soil warms up in Spring.
I want to leave my Autumn theme with a little poem, or a blessing. It is by one of Australia’s unique treasures, Michael Leunig, from his little book “When I talk to you”:
We give thanks for the harvest of the heart’s work;
Seeds of faith planted with faith;
Love nurtured by love;
Courage strengthened by courage;
We give thanks for the fruits of the struggling soul,
The bitter and the sweet;
For that which has grown in adversity
And for that which has flourished in warmth and grace;
Before we went south to the Coorong and the Great Ocean Road I made the Fella we went to Port Augusta. For a couple of years I had wanted to visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Garden there. To be completely open I wanted to see if they had any of the Cullen genus growing. Unfortunately not, but there were other things to see, and I found a plant that I certainly had not expected.
I was walking around I heard a rustle in the bushes. I envy you if you live in a place where, when hearing a rustle in the bushes, you don’t automatically think “SNAKE!”. I jumped and panicked because I was not wearing sensible, anti-snake clothes. Then, bravely walking on, giving wide berth to the rustling bush, I looked and saw….this magnificent fellow.
I don’t think he is a Showy Daisy Bush, despite the label he is sitting next to! Instead he is a Sand Goanna, Varanus gouldii.
A little further on I found this bush, and this where my story about this plant begins.
The plant is the Spiny Daisy, Acanthocladium dockeri. Not much to look at, and I wouldn’t have given more than a passing glance if I hadn’t read the sign that began
First collected 1860 by the Burke and Wills expedition in South-Western New South Wales.
My immediate thought was “Beckler!” Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will go “Ah, Beckler”. Those of you who are newer will go “Huh? Beckler?” So I have to explain. If you know who I am talking about, skip over this part.
As the sign says, in 1860 the Burke and Wills Expedition travelled through south-west NSW on their way to transverse Australia from south to north. The whole saga is fascinating and click here if you want to read more, but the Spiny Everlasting Daisy and I are staying in the south west, at Menindee. It was here that part of the Expedition, including Dr Hermann Beckler, stayed for a number of months. Beckler was fascinated by Australian plants and collected about 120 plants in the area during the enforced stay. These specimens were sent to his colleague, Ferdinand Von Mueller, who had established the Herbarium in Melbourne.
Fast forward 150 years…a group of botanical artists, including me, have a project, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty, to locate, identify, collect (with permission) and then paint these 120 plants. In fact a couple of weeks earlier I had been in Menindee for our annual collection and painting trip.
So, when I saw the sign I knew that this had to have been one of the plants on Beckler’s list. One that we needed to paint. Even that would have been exciting, but it was even better. I will let you read the rest of the sign.
Oh wow! Believed to be extinct, but 4 sites were discovered in South Australia!! I did some detective work, thanks to the internet. This is from the Australian Government’s Species Profile and Threats Database
The Spiny Everlasting was first recorded in NSW near the Darling River by Dr H Beckler during the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860. The species was not recorded again until 1910, when herbarium specimens were collected at Overland Corner on the Murray River in South Australia. By 1992 the Spiny Everlasting was believed to be extinct, as extensive searches in its general known localities failed to locate it (Davies 1992).
In 1999, a population of Spiny Everlasting was discovered near Laura, in the mid-north of South Australia; a further four populations have since been located in the region, with the latest population discovered in January 2007.
So yes, it was on Beckler’s list. Even more importantly, it is not extinct. Hanging on by the wispiest of roots, but still there, enhancing our world. It is still critically endangered, especially from these threats outlined in the Species Profile and Threats Database:
Habitat Fragmentation, Population Isolation and Low Genetic Variability
The grassland habitat in which Spiny Everlasting occurs has been heavily fragmented and selectively cleared for agriculture in the Southern Lofty Ranges [South Australia] (Davies 1982, 2000), with the result that all remaining subpopulations are isolated from each other. The five known subpopulations represent five quite distinct genetic clones (Jusaitis & Adams 2005, Jusaitis 2007).
Pollen Viability and Seedling Recruitment
Trials have found low levels of seed set as a result of low pollen viability. In the field, plants have only been observed reproducing vegetatively by suckering from roots and shoots. In the laboratory, seedlings have only been successfully raised by tissue culture, indicating low seedling vigour (Jusaitis & Adams 2005; Robertson 2002a). …….Lack of successful sexual reproduction threatens Spiny Everlasting in the longer term, as it prevents maintenance of genetic diversity through recombination.
Herbivory by Snails
The introduced common White or Vineyard Snail Cernuella virgata has a dramatic impact on individuals of Spiny Everlasting during the wetter months. Trials have shown that the snails actively graze on both stems and leaves of the plant during winter and spring (Jusaitis, cited in Robertson 2002a). This removes the outer tissue layers, resulting in weakening or ringbarking of the stems, death of leaves and often death of complete shoots above the site of injury. Plants may resprout below, or occasionally above, the injury (Robertson 2002a). These snails have been in the Laura district for only about 10 years and their impact may be increasing. They are found at the sites of all Spiny Everlasting subpopulations (Robertson 2002a, b, c, d, e). If snail numbers continue to increase, their impact is likely to become increasingly severe, making the subpopulations more vulnerable to other factors.
Grazing of Habitat by Vertebrates
The Spiny Everlasting has apparently become extinct along the Murray and Darling Rivers. Davies (1992) and Robertson (2002a) hypothesise that one contributing factor was degradation of its former habitats by rabbits and sheep grazing.
There is a plan in place, including five translocation sites that have been established for education awareness in public gardens. These are at the Laura Parklands, the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta, Hart Field Day Site, the Mid-North Plant Diversity Nursery in Blyth, and the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.
Another three translocations have been established to provide back-up for the natural extant subpopulations.
The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project will not be able to collect any specimens of the Spiny Everlasting Daisy, but perhaps we will be able to go to one of the translocation sites and paint this amazing plant. That would be another great story to add to Project.
There is another personal layer to this too. After we left Port Augusta we camped for a few nights at Melrose, at the foot of Mt Remarkable. Somewhere close to Melrose is one of the sites where the daisy was rediscovered. We had coffee in the Laura bakery. I was that close to seeing it in the wild, but I didn’t know until I had passed on by. I am not sure that I would have gone looking for it. A species that is critically endangered needs to be treasured and supported, not tramped over. I am just happy that it is still in our world.
I have to confess to a little quite a lot of grand standing here. Firstly the interview is on the blog for our project, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. Secondly, I edit that blog. Thirdly, I interviewed myself! (small blush)
Now that I have declared that, I do want to say that you might find it interesting. My “interview” is about the plant, Cullen discolor, that I have been painting. It goes into more detail about the plant itself. As well there are posts of interviews* with other artists.
King’s Park is a glorious treasure just a few kilometres from the centre of Perth. It sits proudly on the hill, looking over the city and the Swan River. If you do decide to visit, make sure you take one of the free guided walks through the park.
This area of the park has tree lined avenues, manicured lawns and the War Memorial.
But it is more than this. Two thirds of its 4km square area is natural bush land, as well as the Botanic Gardens. And in the Gardens is the boab tree. Australians may remember an article on “Gardening Australia” about the boab’s journey from up in the Kimberleys to Perth. If you don’t know, let me tell you the story. But first, have a look at this mighty tree, Gija Jumulu.
For 750 years this elder of the tree world grew in Telegraph Creek, near Warmum, northern Western Australia. It grew on the land of the Gija people, who used it and other boabs for bush tucker. Apparently the fruits taste like sherbert and are used to treat gastric conditions. Boabs store water, which indigenous people are able to harvest.
The recent resources boom in the Kimberleys meant that a new bridge on the Great Northern Highway was more important than the tree. Fortunately it wasn’t bulldozed down, but moved to Perth, a gift of the Gija people to the people of Western Australia.
The 36 tonne tree travelled 3200 kms to reach Perth, making it the longest land journey of a tree that size — a hard record to beat! The map on the plaque shows its journey.
It looks rather unhealthy but it has settled in well. There are still some rough patches on its bark but the arborists are confident that they will heal. It is deciduous which accounts for its poor looking leaf growth. So here’s to the next 750 years! (Interested in finding out more? Follow the link to a fact sheet on the Gardening Australia website.)
Some more photos of the stunning Western Australian flora.
And I can’t leave you without a photo of the iconic kangaroo’s paw.